The American Council on Education (ACE) offered a significant boost to the reputation of a handful of free online courses today, recommending that 5 massive open online courses (MOOCs) be made eligible for college credit. Of course, whether — and when — schools will take up that recommendation remains to be seen, but even the principle is good news for people looking for ways to make college cheaper for students — and thus available to more of them.
All five courses are offered through online education clearinghouse Coursera, which submitted the classes to the ACE for consideration back in November. Now, the ACE has reached the conclusion that the classes — which include algebra, pre-calculus, calculus, an introduction to genetics and evolution, and a primer on bioelectricity — are on par from a quality standpoint with offerings from degree granting institutions.
That shouldn’t be surprising, as the professors who administer the courses also teach the same subjects at institutions like Duke University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of California — Irvine. While the online courses can’t offer the same classroom experience that traditional classes do, they do have the twin advantages of being open to anyone, anywhere in the world and, oh yeah, being free.
The ACE recommendation isn’t binding, so none of its member schools are required to start offering credit for these or any other MOOCs. And considering that letting students take free online courses — or mostly free, as students would need to pay somewhere in the area of $100 to get actual credits per the ACE recommendation — could take a lot of money out of the pockets of colleges, don’t expect adoption of MOOCs for credit to be quick. Some schools, though, like San Jose State University in Califronia, have started to make headway into offering credits for courses their professors offer through online education services like Coursera and Udacity.
In the meantime, if you’re looking to simply expand your mind or sharpen your understanding of a topic that interests you, you can check out Coursera’s offerings here.
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